Archive for March, 2011

A new piece for HSToday, covering some of the ground I already touched upon with my earlier piece on Rajib Karim,but now going into greater detail about Awlaki’s clear obsession with flights to America. One detail I should clarify, the way the piece reads, it looks like I said that it was the voice message Awlaki sent Rajib and his brother that got security forces switched onto them. I do not know this for certain, though this certainly seems one of the earlier pieces of communication between Awlaki and the Karim to have been released. In fact, it seems likely that he was on radars for a while before this.

Britain Convicts Awlaki Acolyte Targeting US Bound Planes

By: Raffaello Pantucci

03/08/2011 (12:00am)

Last week a court in London convicted Rajib Karim, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi national in the UK working for British Airways of plotting with the Yemeni-American Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, Anwar Al Awlaki, to attack flights bound for the United States.

According to information released during Karim’s trial, Karim exchanged emails with Awlaki in Yemen thinking through ways attacks could be carried out. The target for Awlaki remains America. In an email exchange with Karim, he is alleged to have stated “our highest priority is to attack the US.”

The prosecution asserted that Karim is “committed to an extreme jihadist and religious cause” and was “determined to seek martyrdom.”

Karim denied he got a job with the airline so that he could plan a terror attack, and maintained that “Islam teaches that you can’t target civilians.”

Karim’s conviction is clear evidence of a third attempt by Awlaki to attack aircraft bound for America. In the first known case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young London-educated Nigerian, hid an explosive in his underwear and boarded a flight from Ghana through Amsterdam to Detroit. He was overwhelmed before the explosive he carried could fully detonate and currently is in American custody awaiting trial.

A year later, a second attempt came in the form of a set of parcel bombs that originated in Yemen bound for targets in the US. Acting on information from a Saudi informant, one of the bombs was intercepted in Dubai and the other at East Midlands Airport in the UK. In a subsequent “special” edition of Inspire, the publication produced by AQAP, the group claimed credit for the attempted bombings, which it dubbed “Operation Hemorrhage.”

In the case of Karim, it is less clear exactly what Awlaki was planning, but emails between the two men disclosed a series of possibilities. An IT worker at British Airways at time of arrest, Karim moved to the UK in 2006 when he immigrated with his wife and child seeking medical aid for the child. The child got better, and while the move seems genuine enough, Karim by this point was a radicalized individual providing funding and logistical support for the Bangladeshi jihadist group, Jamaat al Mujahedeen.

Meanwhile, Karim’s younger brother, Tehzeeb, spent his time attempting to connect with jihadists in other parts of the world and ended up traveling to Yemen where he connected with Awlaki.

Having made contact with Awlaki using a path that went through the same language school in Sanaa as the one used by Abdulmutallab, Tehzeeb boasted to Awlaki about his brother who worked at British Airways in the UK. This immediately piqued Awlaki’s interest and the Al Qaeda spiritual leader contacted Karim to hear more about his position and how he could help him with his plotting to attack America.

Karim told Awlaki of knowing “two brothers, one who works in baggage handling at Heathrow, and another who works in airport security. Both are good practicing brothers and sympathize towards the cause of the mujahedeen.”

Several other men also were arrested in the initial sweep after Karim’s arrest, but nothing came of the possible charges against them. One was fired from his position at British Airways.

At another point during the plotting when it was announced that British Airways staff were going to go on strike, Karim suggested (and was encouraged) by Awlaki to sign up to act as replacement staff. But he was rejected on the basis that he had worked for the firm for less than five years.

Clearly seeing the potential of the Bangladeshi brothers, Awlaki paid special attention to them, and at one point even sent them a special voice message confirming that rumors of his death were untrue. It is likely that this communication tipped off intelligence agencies to Karim.

When initially arrested, Karim was calm, according to police sources, who suspect that his coolness stemmed from his belief that the security programs he had installed on his computer would keep his secrets hidden from investigators. Coupled with his cover as an IT worker for British Airways and a public persona co-workers described as “mild mannered, well-educated and respectful.”

Karim believed himself a perfect sleeper jihadist.

Police nevertheless were able to crack his encryption codes and methods of hiding information and uncovered a treasure trove of documents and information regarding his communications with Awlaki and his jihadist brother. They were able to piece together his plotting and his growing desire to leave the United Kingdom to conduct jihad.

Karim wrote on January 29, 2010″ “Without anything happening and also not being able to have any concrete plans to do anything here, my iman [faith] was getting affected. I started feeling like a real munafiq [hypocrite]. It has been three years that I have been living here away from the company of good brothers and spending a good part of my working day with the kuffar [infidels] … that’s why I desperately wanted to make hijrah [journey to fight jihad].”

For Awlaki, clearly, the preference would have been for Karim to attempt an attack in the West. And given Karim’s connections and position, it is easy to see how close he came.

 

Something for a new outlet, Prospect magazine, the British equivalent of the Atlantic or the New Yorker. It shrunk a bit to appear on their blog, and an addition I tried to get in late didn’t make it. I should have also mentioned the case of Arid Uka, the young Kosovar who shot a couple of US servicemen in Frankfurt last week. I am planning a longer piece on him, and I have a feeling this might prove to a significant event. It looks like there might be similarities with Roshonara Choudhry, and that the notion of individual jihad is catching on.

Oh What a Western Jihad!

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI —  4TH MARCH 2011
As al-Qaida’s lure seems to be diminishing in the middle east, why does the group’s ideology still resonate with disaffected young men in the west?

As change sweeps across North Africa and the Middle East, al-Qaida is nowhere to be seen. Aside from a few comments from the sidelines, the group has not been able to play a role in the recent revolutions. Instead, the group’s influence has recently been most visible in the west, where a series of stories have shown the ongoing appeal of “global jihad” to a diverse collection of young aspirants.

In London, a court convicted Mohammed Gul, a young British student at Queen Mary University, of producing radical material promoting al-Qaida’s ideology online. The judge characterised Gul as “thoroughly radicalised.” A week later over at Woolwich Crown Court, a jury found Rajib Karim, an IT worker for British Airways, guilty of plotting with Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlak to blow up a plane.

While Gul was being sent down, federal agents in Texas moved in to arrest Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a 20-year old Saudi student who had allegedly been accumulating materials to build a bomb. As he put it on his blog, “after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.” Elsewhere in the States, Zachary Adam Chesser, a 20-year-old convert, famous for encouraging attacks on the creators of South Park for having mocked the Prophet, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Last week in Germany, authorities moved in to arrest two Turkish-Germans who were sending money to an al-Qaida affiliate in Waziristan, having previously trained with the group. Another four individuals on police radars also had properties searched. Connected with the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan, an al-Qaida affiliate that fights alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, the men were part of a community of young Germans who have been drawn to Waziristan by the mystique of jihad.

Although al-Qaida does not seem to be directly linked to any of these cases, their message clearly is. All of the young men in these stories bought into the group’s violent ideology, each attempting in their separate ways to advance its aims. Yet while this message continues to find support among certain disaffected young men in the west, the al-Qaida narrative has not found much support amongst the rebellious youth taking to the streets in North Africa and the Middle East.

Interpreting this is tricky. After all, it is early days for the waves of revolution sweeping the Arab world. But in many ways it is not that surprising. Al-Qaidaism was always a movement predicated on global anti-establishmentarianism. For it to find a natural home amongst young men in the west seeking direction in life is a logical conclusion. For these western wannabe terrorists, the issues at home lack the immediacy that domestic issues have for young people in North Africa and the Middle East, and so they have more time for dreamlike notions of global jihad. For their counterparts, on the other hand, it is the near enemy in the shape of a local tyrant that remains the focal point of attention.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR)

 

A post over at Free Rad!cals which focuses on the fascinating phenomenon of Lone Wolves. I have a longer article coming out about this later in the month. Keep your eyes out for this, and drop me a note if you find anything interesting about the subject.

It increasingly seems as though the young Kosovar who forced his way onto a bus of US servicemen yesterday at Frankfurt Airport may have had Islamist leanings. Investigators have apparently located his Facebook account and, according Der Spiegel, on it “the young man makes little attempt to conceal his Islamist beliefs.” The question now on security services minds is whether he is a Lone Wolf or a Lone Attacker.

The distinction is an important one to make. If he is a Lone Wolf, then he is likely going to be a one-off crazy who for reasons which will become the focus of much speculation in the near-future, decided to launch an attack on a bus load of US service people. If instead he proves to be a Lone Attacker, then he might be the beginning of a wave of attacks or plots which might finally be Al Qaeda or affiliated groups carrying out (or attempting to carry out) the long-awaited Mumbai-style attack that security forces have been dreading. And which he is will very much determine how security services respond.

Aftermath of the Attack at Frankfurt Airport (Courtesy of AP)

What does seem clear, however, is that the notion of the lone jihadist warrior has been normalized, in every sense of the word. Over Christmas, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly tried to carry out an attack in Stockholm. There has been all sorts of speculation about his contacts with Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it remains unclear what role they played in his attempt. Last year we saw Roshonara Choudhry attempt to kill an MP seemingly with no outside instigation beyond what she found online, and then a week ago we saw federal agents in Texas grab Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a Saudi student in Lubbock, Texas who was on his way to building a bomb. Again, there is at this stage no evidence he had any outside drivers.

And the list goes on. But the point is that it seems as though individual jihadists is increasingly the norm, be they ones sent and connected to organizations or ones who decide to move forwards of their own volition. This is not to say we have seen the end of larger-scale plots: soon after Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly blew himself up in Stockholm, police in the UK swooped and arrested a network of mostly British-Bangladeshi’s who it was claimed were plotting to attack a large site in London. And soon after that, Danish police disrupted another plot to attack Jyllands Posten with a team of people armed with firepower.

So the age of ambitious attacks and plots has by no means ended, but it seems as though increasingly the one-man terror team – either dispatched by a group or self-started – is becoming the norm. This presents a complicated threat for a number reasons, but how we address and then define this problem is increasingly going to be a focus of attention.

Later this month, ICSR will publish a paper by Raff offering a typology of Lone Wolves.